Fiddler on the Roof: A review by Michelle Coleman

January 14, 2016 by Michelle Coleman
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The lights went down, the curtain rose, the first strains of the orchestra filled the theatre… and in less than a minute the audience was clapping along enthusiastically. With its catchy tunes by Jerry Bock, witty lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and irresistible characters from Sholem Aleichem’s stories, Fiddler on the Roof spun its magic yet again – just as it did for the first time more than 51 years ago.

Anthony Warlow as Tevye   Photo: Jeff Busby

Anthony Warlow as Tevye Photo: Jeff Busby

According to producer Tim Lawson, the musical’s appeal lies in the universality of its theme.

Fiddler on the Roof is about values at a time, like today, where there is confusion over those values. It is about the breaking down of traditions when some people are still trying to uphold these traditions. It is about a man and his relationship with his family, his people, the enemies of his people, and of his special relationship with G-d”.

To a Jewish audience the theme is additionally poignant: It is the sad tale of our history and the personalities resonate powerfully. It’s more than just theatre, it’s personal. Who amongst us can’t hum along to “If I were a rich man” or “Matchmaker, matchmaker”? Both my daughter and I —despite hailing from different generations— laughed along with the characters through most of the first Act and cried throughout the second. It was the ultimate catharsis!

Playing the lead role after Chaim Topol’s almost 40-year reign as Tevye must be a daunting proposition for even as lauded a performer as Anthony Warlow. Nevertheless, he soon had the audience on-side and delivered a performance that was musically gorgeous and theatrically flawless, earning cheers of bravo and a standing ovation.

Sigrid Thornton’s acting of Tevye’s wife Golde was excellent but her weak voice was no match for Warlow’s rich and lyrical notes. The remaining roles were all well played (despite some performers struggling to accurately render the shtetl accent), but mention must be made of Nicki Wendt’s Yente the matchmaker and Blake Bowden’s Perchik. Wendt was convincing and very funny while Bowden’s voice is simply stunning.

The show faithfully reproduced the classic New York choreography by Jerome Robbins and was directed with charm by Roger Hodgman. Richard Roberts’ set design was both clever and effective.

All in all this is an absolutely delightful production that would appeal to audiences of all ages. Beg, borrow, busk if you must. But buy a ticket!

Fiddler on the Roof is playing in Melbourne until 27 February and in Sydney from 24 March.

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